dailynews

BY DOUGLAS FEIDEN
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Sunday, May 25th 2008, 4:00 AM
Click on photo to see a gallery of corrupt officials like ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and ex-Controller Alan Hevesi who are eligible for big pensions. Schwartz, Chevrestt for News

Click on photo to see a gallery of corrupt officials like ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer and ex-Controller Alan Hevesi who are eligible for big pensions.

A corrupt army of 450 disgraced pols, crooked cops and bribed judges is pocketing fat city and state pensions funded by the taxpayers they betrayed, a Daily News probe has found.

Another 125 fallen officials – from ex-Assemblywoman Diane Gordon (D-Brooklyn), caught fishing for bribes, to ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, caught rolling wth hookers – will snag their “golden goodbyes” when they turn 62.

Fueled by a crime wave in Albany and scandals at City Hall, the roster of tainted public servants has exploded dramatically in the past two years – and the cost of their send-offs has soared to $25 million a year, estimates show.

Even two ex-detectives accused of being Mafia hit men – Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa – have raked in city pensions that total $1 million apiece, records show.

“It’s a world that rewards people who lie, cheat, steal, take bribes, betray the public trust and embezzle public funds,” said City Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn) who has railed for years against such ripoffs.

Even an upstate cell at the Oneida Correctional Facility can’t keep cash from a crook: Former Assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic fixer Clarence Norman – serving nine years for theft and extortion – pulls down an annual state pension of $43,322. By the time he’s back in Flatbush, he could bank a $389,898 nest egg, state officials say.

New York’s protected class includes ex-Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who pleaded guilty to state charges of lying about illegal gifts and faces federal charges of conspiracy, tax fraud and making false statements.

Kerik’s $57,263-a-year city pension is guaranteed for life, no matter what. Since he began collecting pension checks in 2003, he’s pocketed $275,000, records show.

The richest member of the Hall of Shame: ex-Controller Alan Hevesi, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to using state workers to chauffeur his ailing wife, water her plants, drop off her dry cleaning and take her to Bloomingdale’s.

He gets a $104,123 state pension that began in 2002 plus a $66,570 teachers pension, from an earlier post at Queens College, that started in 1996. That comes to $170,693 a year; Hevesi has soaked taxpayers for $1.1 million, records show.

Rewarding rogues is perfectly legal, pension experts say. The city’s administrative code, the state’s Retirement and Social Security Law and the state Constitution do not specifically ban the practice.

There is no provision for forfeiture of pension benefits. Ne’er-do-wells who face legal peril simply file for retirement and begin collecting.

Consider ex-Assemblywoman Gloria Davis, captured on video accepting payola to steer state work to a contractor. Confronted with $3,400 in marked bills found inside her pocketbook, the Bronx Democrat pleaded guilty in January 2003 to a bribery charge and was stripped of her $97,000-a-year seat.

A month later her retirement became official and her $61,290-a-year pension kicked in. To date, she’s collected $302,500, records show.

“She had a weak moment and something went wrong, but that doesn’t negate all the good she’s done for her community,” said her lawyer, Murray Richman.

Davis is an exception. Only 12% of the tainted pols collecting fat pensions are women; the rest are men. Some have ridden the gravy train for years after their disgrace.

Typical is ex-Chief Judge Sol Wachtler. In 1992, he altered his voice, disguised himself as a toothless Texas private eye and launched a bizarre harassment campaign against an ex-lover.

A month after his arrest, he began receiving his $69,339-a-year retirement pay, which accrued while he served 15 months in federal prison for threatening to kidnap the woman’s 14-year-old daughter.

In the 16 years since he was booted from the state’s No. 1 judicial job, Wachtler has snared $1 million, a News analysis found.

“Judge Wachtler accepted responsibility for what he did, and paid dearly for it,” said his then-lawyer, Charles Stillman. “It had zero to do with the outstanding service he rendered as one of the state’s greatest judges.”

Ex-Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Victor Barron also traded his black robes for an orange jumpsuit after accepting an $18,000 bribe from a lawyer.

Arrested in January 2002, Barron put in for his retirement that August and began collecting his $87,836-a-year pension. A week later, he pleaded guilty to bribery. Jailed for three years, his monthly check from the state went into his direct-deposit account until his release in 2005.

Over nearly six years, taxpayers have ponied up $516,000 for the jurist who sullied the Brooklyn bench.

New Yorkers have also showered $292,000 on ex-state Sen. Guy Velella (R-Bronx), who pleaded guilty in May 2004 to funneling $137,000 in bribes from contractors through his 90-year-old father’s law firm.

His timing was perfect: Velella’s retirement became official on June 16, 2004, giving him an annual $74,472 pension that followed him to Rikers, where served eight months of a one-year sentence.

“It’s the tiniest bit of wrongdoing weighed against a long lifetime of enormous service as a public official,” said Stillman, who also was Velella’s lawyer.

dfeiden@nydailynews.com.